Tag: inflation

Monday Economic Report – April 14, 2014

Here is a summary of this week’s Monday Economic Report:

In the minutes of its March Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, the Federal Reserve Board highlighted the negative impact of weather events on first-quarter growth. Winter storms hampered business investment, construction, consumer spending and manufacturing production. Nonetheless, the Federal Reserve still anticipates real GDP growth of between 2.8 and 3.0 percent in 2014, faster than last year’s 1.9 percent expansion. While this reflects a slight downgrade in the outlook for the year from the last forecast, it continues to suggest that the economy will regain its momentum moving forward. The Federal Reserve also predicts growth of 3.0 to 3.2 percent in 2015. The International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook, which was released last week, mirrors these figures in its own forecasts for the United States.

The highlight of the FOMC minutes was the background discussion among participants regarding future monetary policy actions. The Federal Reserve largely feels that the U.S. labor market has a lot of “slack” in it, which is not reflected by the 6.7 percent unemployment rate. Despite improvements in the unemployment rate, weaknesses continue, with the participation rate near 30-year lows and high rates of both underemployment and part-time employment. While some FOMC members feel there has been sufficient economic progress to warrant less stimulative monetary policy measures, the majority view the current labor market as sufficiently weak enough to continue the Federal Reserve’s highly accommodative actions for the foreseeable future. The Federal Reserve will continue to reduce its long-term asset purchases, but short-term interest rates will likely not rise until next year at the earliest. Inflationary pressures remain modest, providing the Federal Reserve with some wiggle room to do its stimulative measures.

The most recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data suggest the labor market for manufacturers remains soft. The number of manufacturing job openings declined for the third month in a row in February. Postings have been lower since peaking in November, and the December to February time frame mirrored the weather-related weaknesses seen in other data. Net hiring was also lower in those three months, with 2,000 more separations than hires in February. Still, the manufacturing sector has added an average of 12,125 workers each month since August, mirroring the uptick in demand and production that we have seen since that point. We are hopeful that hiring begins to accelerate again in the coming months.

Looking at the sentiment surveys last week, businesses and consumers were more upbeat. The California Manufacturing Survey from Chapman University reported rising expectations for new orders and production for the second quarter, but with employment growth remaining soft. Both durable and nondurable goods activity were anticipated to expand modestly in the current quarter. Likewise, small business owners in the National Federation of Independent Business’ (NFIB) survey were more optimistic about future sales, and those saying the next three months were a good time to expand edged marginally higher. Still, earnings remained weak, and the percentage suggesting they would bring on more workers moved lower. The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters also noted improved consumer sentiment, a welcome gain after three months of dampened enthusiasm.

This week will be a busy one on the economic front, specifically with new reports on housing starts and industrial production. We hope to move beyond the weather-related weaknesses from earlier this year, and March’s manufacturing output numbers are expected to show a continued rebound. Similarly, housing starts moved slightly higher in February, but permits surpassed the 1 million mark for the first time since November; yet, rising interest rates, financial challenges for potential buyers and low inventory remain concerns. Other highlights this week include new data on consumer prices, leading indicators, manufacturing surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks and state employment.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. Note that General Electric Chief Economist Marco Annunziata will prepare the Monday Economic Report for April 21.

participation rate - apr2014

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Personal Income and Spending Both Rose Modestly in February

The Bureau of Economic Analysis said that personal income and spending both increased by 0.3 percent in February, extending the modest gains of January. After weather-related softness in December, the data have been more favorable in the first two months of 2014. On a year-over-year basis, each of these measures has risen 3.0 percent. This compares to personal income growth of 2.9 percent in 2013, with a 3.2 percent pace for personal spending last year. (If you were to omit December, which was an outlier month due to the fiscal cliff the year before, personal income growth would have also been 3.2 percent.)

The increase in spending in February stemmed from both nondurable goods and services, both of which increased 0.3 percent for the month. Durable goods purchases fell for the third straight month, down 0.2 percent in February. It is likely that poor weather conditions negatively impacted these figures, with other releases showing weak spending for automobiles and other items from December to February.

Meanwhile, wages and salaries were up 0.2 percent in February, rising 3.1 percent over the past 12 months. For manufacturers, there was some softness on the wage front, likely due to weather-related slowdowns. Indeed, manufacturing wages and salaries have fallen from $758.0 billion in November to $754.2 billion in February. Prior to that, compensation had been rising, particularly as activity had picked up. For instance, wages in the sector averaged $707.1 billion, $735.4 billion, and $747.8 billion in 2011, 2012, and 2013, respectively.

The savings rate edged slightly higher, up from 4.2 percent in January to 4.3 percent in February. Still, we have generally seen this rate decelerate over the past year. The savings rate dropped from an average of 5.3 percent through the first 11 months of 2012 to 4.5 percent in 2013.

Overall inflationary pressures remain minimal, with prices for core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) up just 0.9 percent year-over-year, down from 1.2 percent last month. Energy prices had risen in December and January on increased home-heating costs, but these eased a bit in February, down 0.4 percent.  Inflation remains below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target rate, which frees the Fed up to pursue its highly accommodative policies. If anything, there are some who argue that disinflationary pressures might be a concern, but that is less true in the U.S. than it is in Europe.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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The Federal Reserve Continued Tapering, Changing its Forward Guidance to be More Vague

The Federal Reserve Board said that it would continue tapering its long-term asset purchases. As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted to reduce its monthly purchases of mortgage-backed and long-term securities from $65 billion to $55 billion, continuing to lower its bond-buying initiative by $10 billion with each meeting. These reductions began in December, when the Fed was still buying $85 billion in assets each month. Conventional wisdom holds that the Fed’s quantitative easing program will end by the third quarter of 2014.

The other major decision involved the 6.5 percent unemployment rate target that has been in the FOMC statement since December 2012. With the unemployment rate approaching 6.5 percent, it was widely anticipated that the Fed would change its forward guidance to stop mentioning an unemployment rate target altogether. In essence, the Fed would switch from “quantitative” to “qualitative” guidance. In its statement, the Fed said that it would continue to maintain its highly accommodative stance for some time, with the FOMC’s new goals somewhat vague in terms of data goals. It says:

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy remains appropriate. In determining how long to maintain the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess progress–both realized and expected–toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation.

While the January FOMC minutes hinted that short-term rates might start to rise by year’s end if the economy grows sufficiently, economists have largely forecasted that the Fed funds rate would begin to increase gradually sometime in 2015. With that said, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen suggested in her first press conference that short-term interest rates might rise around six months after quantitative easing ends. Financial markets interpreted this to be sooner than expected, sending equity markets lower.

There was one dissenter to the FOMC’s actions this time. Narayana Kocherlakota, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, did not support dropping the unemployment rate target from the Fed’s forward guidance. He feels that unemployment remains elevated, and the Fed should continue its stimulative policies until the unemployment rate falls further. Specifically, the statement says that he felt that it “weakens the credibility of the Committee’s commitment to return inflation to the 2 percent target from below and fosters policy uncertainty that hinders economic activity.”

In terms of economic forecasts, the Fed slightly lowered its predictions for growth in 2014. It now expects real GDP to increase between 2.8 and 3.0 percent, down from the 2.8 to 3.2 percent range stated three months ago. Weather-related softness has likely had a negative impact on these forecasts, particularly for the first quarter. On the other hand, employment was somewhat better, with the unemployment rate falling to as low as 6.1 percent in 2014 and 5.6 percent in 2015. Pricing pressures were expected to be minimal, staying below the Fed’s threshold of 2 percent for the next couple years. This year, core inflation should increase between 1.4 percent and 1.6 percent at the annual rate.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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Higher Utility Bills Due to Colder Weather Push the Consumer Price Index Up Marginally

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that consumer prices increased 0.1 percent in January, edging marginally higher for the third straight month. The largest increase in each of the last two months has been with energy goods (up 1.6 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively), but with a difference this time around. In December, higher energy prices stemmed largely from increases in gasoline, but the gains in January were primarily from an acceleration in household utility bills. A similar finding was noted in yesterday’s producer price index, with colder weather pushing up the cost of electricity and piped-in natural gas.

In contrast, food prices rose just 0.1 percent in January, both for food purchased for the home and at restaurants. Increased prices for baked goods, cereals, dairy products, meats and poultry were offset by declining costs for fruits and vegetables.

Outside of food and energy, core inflation was also up 0.1 percent. There were increases in the cost of medical care, housing, and transportation, but there were somewhat offset by declining prices for apparel and new and used vehicles. On a year-over-year basis, core inflation rose 1.6 percent between January 2013 and January 2014. While core prices have accelerated from October’s 0.9 percent annual pace, overall pricing growth remains mostly acceptable. For instance, it remains below the Federal Reserve’s stated goal of 2 percent, which it has done every month for 12 straight months.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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Producer Prices Edge Higher, but with Inflationary Pressures Still Minimal

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that producer prices for final demand goods and services rose 0.2 percent in January. This was the fastest pace in three months, and the gains were larger for goods (0.4 percent) than for services (0.1 percent). On an annualized basis, producer prices for final demand goods and services rose 1.2 percent in January, only marginally higher than the 1.1 percent pace observed in December.

Specific to final demand goods, food costs were up sharply, rising 1.0 percent for the month, ending two straight months of declines. Increased prices for vegetables, meats, seafood, and dairy products pushed food costs up in February. At the same time, energy costs rose 0.3 percent, extending the 1.5 percent increase the month before. Colder weather likely impacted this result, with energy costs lifted by higher prices for electricity, natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas.

Excluding energy and food, core producer prices for final demand goods rose 0.4 percent, its fastest gain in more than one year. The largest increases were seen for agricultural machinery, cosmetics, floor coverings, pharmaceuticals, and sporting and athletic goods.

Core inflation for goods and services at the final demand level remained minimal, up just 1.4 percent from January 2013 to January 2014. The significance of this figure is that remains well below the Federal Reserve’s threshold of 2 percent, allowing the Federal Open Market Committee to continue its accommodative measures to stimulate the economy. In fact, the year-over-year pace has stayed below 2 percent each month since December 2012.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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Personal Spending Rose Modestly in December, But Incomes Were Flat

Personal incomes were unchanged in December, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. For the fourth quarter, incomes were up just marginally, increasing a very modest 0.1 percent. For the year of 2013 as a whole, personal incomes rose 2.8 percent, below the 4.2 percent gain observed in 2012.

For manufacturers, total wages and salaries increased from $760.9 billion in November to $763.6 billion in December. Average manufacturing wages and salaries for 2013 were $749.3 billion, up 1.9 percent from $735.4 billion in 2012.

Meanwhile, personal spending rose 0.4 percent in December, extending the 0.6 percent increase seen in November. Overall, consumers spent 1.1 percent more in the fourth quarter, with a gain of 2.0 percent for all of 2013. This was slightly below the 2.2 percent increase observed in 2012.

December’s higher personal spending figure stemmed largely from a significant jump in nondurable goods activity, up 1.5 percent for the month. In contrast, personal durable goods spending declined 1.8 percent, offsetting the 1.8 percent jump in November. Looking at the entire year, however, durable goods spending growth outpaced that for nondurable goods, 7.1 percent to 2.1 percent.

With personal incomes flat for the month, the savings rate fell from 4.3 percent in November to 3.9 percent in December. This was the lowest rate in 11 months, and it was the third consecutive monthly decrease, down from 5.1 percent in September.

The other notable item to report from this release was the personal consumption expenditure (PCE) data, which looks at consumer inflation. The Federal Reserve prefers this measure when looking at pricing pressures. Year-over-year growth in the PCE has edged somewhat higher over the past couple months, up from 0.7 percent in October to 0.9 percent in November to 1.1 percent in December. Yet, this still suggests that inflation remains largely in-check, at least for now. Core inflation — which excludes food and energy — has risen just 1.2 percent over the past year, which remains well below the Fed’s stated target of 2 percent.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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Markit: Cold Weather Hurts U.S. Production, and Chinese Output Contracts for First Time since July

The Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) eased somewhat, down from 54.4 in December to 53.7 in January. Flash data give us an advance estimate of manufacturing activity incorporating “approximately 85% of the usual monthly survey replies,” with the final PMI data for the month released on February 3. All of the key subcomponents of the index were lower to begin the new year, with winter weather impacting overall U.S. production.

For instance, the index for output dropped 3.9 points from 57.3 to 53.4. As such, production growth continued to expand, but at the slowest pace in three months. Similarly, there were lower data points for new orders (down from 56.1 to 54.1) and employment (down from 54.0 to 53.2). To the extent that sales growth was positive, it stemmed largely from domestic increases. New export orders (down from 51.4 to 48.9) contracted slightly in January for the first time since September.

Despite the deceleration in activity in January, the longer-term trend for U.S. manufacturers has generally shown improvement. After weaknesses in the spring months (e.g., the Markit Manufacturing PMI bottomed out at 51.9 in May), the data have made progress in recent months, reflecting modest growth overall. If cold weather contributed to January’s slower activity, the impact should be temporary, and we should get some indication of that, either in the final data release or in the February numbers.

Meanwhile, financial markets have reacted to news that manufacturing activity in China has unexpectedly contracted. The HSBC Flash China Manufacturing PMI fell from 50.5 in December to 49.6 in January. This was the first decline since July, following stabilization in the Chinese economy over the past six months. The reduction in the overall PMI figure stemmed largely from fewer new orders (down from 51.8 to 49.8) and exports (down from 50.3 to 49.0). Hiring continued to be negative (down from 48.8 to 47.8), with the employment index below 50 each month since March.

On the other hand, the manufacturing output data (down from 51.8 to 51.3) remain expansionary, albeit at a slower pace than the month before. In fact, the output measure has exceeded 50 for six consecutive months, suggesting that growth might be soft but it is still expanding modestly. Indeed, real GDP in the fourth quarter of 2013 decelerated, as well, from an annual rate of 7.8 percent in the third quarter to 7.7 percent. Nonetheless, the Chinese economy continues to grow solidly, even if it is slower than the double-digit rates that some had been accustomed to a few years ago.

In contrast to the Chinese and U.S. reports, European manufacturing activity strengthened. The Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI increased from 52.7 in December to 53.9 in January. This was the highest point for the PMI since May 2011. The underlying data were mostly higher, including new orders (up from 54.2 to 55.4), output (up from 54.8 to 56.7), exports (up from 53.9 to 55.2), and employment (up from 49.9 to 50.7). The hiring figure is notable in that it was the first time since January 2012 that net employment growth was positive.

The pace of growth has varied from country to country, with German manufacturing accelerating (up from 54.3 to 56.3) but French production continuing to contract (up from 45.2 to 48.2), albeit with a slower rate of decline.

Even with stabilizing conditions in Europe, growth on the continent remains far from robust, with real GDP in the third quarter up just 0.1 percent and some worries about deflation, with pricing pressures decelerating. Despite such worries, the Markit PMI data reflect modest growth in output prices, which have been slightly expansionary since July.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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Monday Economic Report – January 21, 2014

Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report:

Manufacturing production rose 2.6 percent in 2013, slowing from the 3.5 percent and 3.2 percent growth rate experienced in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Yet, the lower 2013 figure stemmed largely from weaknesses in the first half of the year, with manufacturing output rising an annualized 4.2 percent in the second half. As such, the sector ended the year on a strong note, with a pickup in demand and cautious optimism for 2014. Indeed, a number of other reports reached the same conclusion. Surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks and from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) both observed expanding levels of activity in their latest releases. Respondents to these surveys tended to be mostly upbeat about new orders, shipments, exports and hiring over the coming months—which is definitely good news.

Over the past couple years, the rebound in the housing sector has been one of the bright spots in the U.S. economy. Housing starts were lower in December, but it seems the November data were a bit of an outlier. Absent that soaring figure, new residential construction was generally higher to end 2013, particularly for single-family units. New single-family starts increased 7.6 percent year-over-year. Housing permits also eased slightly in December but increased 4.6 percent from the year before. The reduction in housing activity could have been due to severe winter storms, with somewhat higher borrowing costs as another possible contributing factor. The average 30-year mortgage rose from 4.29 percent in the week of November 27 to 4.48 percent in the week of December 26, according to Freddie Mac. Nonetheless, this still historically low rate helps to explain the generally upbeat assessment of home builders.

Meanwhile, the pace of retail sales slowed in December, with reduced auto sales dragging the overall figure lower. Still, motor vehicle sales increased 5.9 percent in 2013, making it one of the stronger components of consumer spending growth. Excluding autos, retail sales would have risen by 0.7 percent last month, suggesting broader strength than the headline figure implies. On a year-over-year basis, total retail spending increased 4.1 percent, a modest pace that marks the slowest since 2009.

The two measures of sentiment moved in opposite directions. Preliminary data from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters on consumer confidence was surprisingly lower for the month, down from 82.5 in December to 80.4 in January. The December data has noted a recovery in perceptions about the economy after falling in the wake of the government shutdown, and the expectation had been for January’s data to extend those gains. With a reduction in sentiment instead, this suggests that the public remains somewhat anxious about economic conditions. At the same time, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) noted an increase in optimism for the second straight month. Underneath the main reading, however, the data were mixed, with more small business owners calling it a “good time to expand” but with sales and earnings remaining subpar.

In terms of news events, outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered a speech at the Brookings Institution that provided his take on the lessons learned from the financial crisis. This “exit interview”—as it has been widely dubbed—was mostly a valedictory address defending the Fed’s monetary actions to help stimulate growth in the economy. Coincidently, Bernanke gave it on the same day that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that core consumer inflation had risen by just 1.7 percent over the past year. A similar conclusion on producer prices had been released the day before, and in each case, the data suggested that pricing pressures were increasing within an acceptable range, at least for now, according to the Fed’s stated targets.

There will only be a handful of economic data releases this week. From the manufacturing perspective, the highlights will come on Thursday. Markit will provide “flash” estimates for its purchasing managers’ index (PMI) reports for the United States, the Eurozone, and China. In addition, the Kansas City Fed will discuss the latest results of its regional manufacturing survey. In each instance, the expectation will be for manufacturers to note continued growth, building on recent gains. Other data releases include updates on the leading economic index and existing home sales.  

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

manufacturing production - jan2014

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Higher Gasoline Costs Push Consumer Prices Up 0.3 Percent in December

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that consumer prices rose 0.3 percent in December, its fastest pace since June. The consumer price index had declined 0.1 percent in October and was unchanged in November. On a year-over-year basis, we have seen a pickup in consumer price inflation over the past couple months, up from 0.9 percent in October to 1.2 percent in November to 1.5 percent in December. Core inflation, which excludes food and energy costs, was 1.7 percent in December for the fourth consecutive month.

In essence, price increases continue to be in the acceptable range, with the annual pace of inflation remaining below the Federal Reserve’s stated goal of 2 percent. Year-over-year consumer prices have remained below 2 percent each month since February 2013. A similar finding was noted in yesterday’s producer price index release.

Nonetheless, December’s data did reflect a modest increase, with a 3.1 percent increase in gasoline prices pushing the consumer price index higher. Indeed, the monthly average for West Texas intermediate crude jumped from $93.86 per barrel in November to $97.63 a barrel in December.

Food prices increased 0.1 percent for the third straight month. In December, this higher figure stemmed largely from a rise in restaurant prices. Prices for food purchased at home were unchanged. Increased prices for meats, fish, and eggs were offset by declining costs for cereals and bakery products.

Outside of food and energy, core inflation was also up 0.1 percent for the month. There were increases in the price of apparel, medical care services, and shelter in December. In contrast, the cost of medical care commodities, transportation services, and used cars are trucks were lower.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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After Two Months of Declines, Producer Prices Rose in December

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that producer prices for finished goods rose 0.4 percent in December. This follows declines of 0.2 percent and 0.1 percent in October and November, respectively. On a year-over-year basis, producer prices have risen 1.2 percent since December 2012. This suggests a bit of pickup in the annual rate, up from 0.3 percent in October and 0.7 percent in November.

Nonetheless, pricing pressures remain quite minimal for the most part. Year-over-year core inflation, which excludes energy and food costs, was 1.4 percent in December, up from 1.3 percent in November. Note that the annual pace of price increases has been below 2 percent – the stated goal of the Federal Reserve – for all of 2013. This frees the Fed to pursue highly accommodative monetary policies to stimulate growth, with worries about inflation reduced (at least for now).

The increase in producer prices in December was due to higher energy costs. The price of finished energy goods increased 1.6 percent in December, up primarily from diesel fuel and home heating oil. Crude energy costs were also higher, up 6.2 percent, on increased petroleum costs. Indeed, the cost of West Texas intermediate crude oil rose from $92.55 per barrel at the end of November to $98.17 at the end of December. In contrast to energy, food costs were off 0.6 percent in December, with vegetable prices leading the data lower.

For manufacturers, there were modest gains in raw material costs, up 0.3 percent in December. Yet, overall pricing pressures have been minimal over the course of the past year, with producer prices in the manufacturing sector rising just 0.6 percent over the past 12 months.

Nonetheless, there were some sector that experienced more rapid changes in input cost in December than the overall  average suggests. The largest increases in monthly raw material costs were seen in the following sectors: wood products (up 4.5 percent), leather and allied products (up 3.9 percent), paper products (up 3.1 percent), nonmetallic mineral products (up 2.9 percent), plastics and rubber products (up 2.4 percent), beverages and tobacco (up 2.0 percent), apparel (up 1.7 percent), textile products (up 1.6 percent), chemicals (up 1.3 percent), and machinery (up 1.2 percent). Still, these shifts mostly reflect some recent volatility in the data, with annual rates of change that were more consistent with the overall year-over-year average.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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